Three Organizations that are Redefining Environmental Education

December 13th, 2013
in econ_news

by Valerie Giesen, INESAD

Climate change, ozone layer, biodiversity, carbon footprint, glacial melt - these have become the buzz phrases of a generation. To some these problems seem far away, while others give up in light of their complexity and magnitude. But clearly we should not leave it to the 'big boys' of environmental politics to tackle the problems faced around the world. Active and informed engagement with environmental challenges will be necessary to find satisfactory solutions. Today, Development Roast brings you three initiatives from three countries offering environmental education and tools for engagement at the policy, academic, and grassroots levels.

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Costa Rican Earth University is revolutionizing agricultural education

The Costa Rica-based Earth University offers students a holistic degree in Agricultural Sciences and Resource Management that teaches them about every stage of agricultural and forestry production: from crop management and harvesting to processing and waste management. Unlike many other agriculture degrees, Earth courses do not teach the components of the ecological system, such as biology, physics, and chemistry, separately. Instead, Earth's holistic approach confronts its students with the complexity of ecological systems and the role people play in them from the beginning. Students also learn about the ins and outs of agricultural business by planning and running an agricultural enterprise with their classmates over the course of three years with a special emphasis on the ecological and social costs of agricultural business. On campus, the university practices what it preaches: In 2011, it opened its first 'green' dorm with energy-efficient lighting, solar water heaters, and a rainwater collection system for toilets and outdoor sinks.

In addition to arming students with the tools of the agricultural trade, Earth has another mission. It aims to equip young people with an understanding of the environmental and social issues facing the tropics in order to foster their personal commitment to work towards sustainable development in the region. To achieve this learning does not end in the classroom and, throughout their degree, students work with rural communities on local farms to evaluate and address problems facing rural communities. In their third year students spend several weeks living with a host family and develop a community project with peers and the community. In this way, Earth University contributes to a future in which the tropics and its communities achieve social, economic, and environmental wellbeing.

Kulturlabor Trial&Error is inspiring upcyclers around the world

Trial&Error workshop on spinning and dying wool with natural dyes. Photo Credit: Trial&Error

Trial&Error workshop on spinning and dying wool with natural dyes. Photo Credit: Trial&Error

The Berlin-based non-profit organisation Kulturlabor Trial&Error, which translates as 'cultural laboratory', promotes 'upcycling' as a tool for environmental sustainability. Upcycling is the practice of using what the average consumer would call trash as a raw material to create a new product of higher value. It is born out of the awareness that contemporary consumerist society produces huge amounts of waste that is burned or sent to landfills where it contaminates the groundwater or releases dangerous greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In its local Berlin community, Trial&Error shares skills that are applicable in everyday life - to reduce waste and protest the wasteful culture of one-way products and disposability.

Above all, Trial&Error aims to encourage people to think critically and connect networks of like-minded individuals hungry for change. Regular sewing and gardening workshops for all ages are aimed at building a community. Trial&Error's upcycling ideas are also freely available on their website for those interested in alternative ways of living. For instance, the 'Toolkit for Creative Recycling' includes instructions for building lampshades from used teabags and even producing 'leather' from banana peels. To raise awareness, Trial&Error is also known for its environmental activism including participation in alternative fashion shows and quirky moss graffiti.

INESAD and UPB offer training to policymakers in South America

The Institute for Advanced Development Studies (INESAD) and the Private University of Bolivia (UPB) are currently cooperating to develop a training program that will help policymakers use evidence about the effects of climate change in order to make informed decisions. The director of INESAD's Center for Environmental Economic Modeling and Analysis (CEEMA), Dr. Lykke Andersen, recently told Development Roast in an interview that it is very difficult to predict future effects of climate change. She explained that the standard statistical tools available are not designed for the high levels of uncertainty involved, when predictions for long time frames are made based on estimations of future temperatures and rainfall. Today, there is an abundance of studies available on the impact of climatic changes; however, their projections vary greatly so that policy choices based on them are often controversial.

The training provided by INESAD and UPB aims to equip officials with knowledge about the tools and methodologies used in climate change studies in order to improve their capacity to design and evaluate such studies. The initiative developed a ten-step guide to evaluating the impacts of climate change and delivered three-day workshops for national and local government officials in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. Soon, INESAD and UPB will deliver similar workshops in Ecuador and Paraguay - this time for civil society organizations rather than state officials. There are also plans to write a book that includes a version of the ten-step guide and examples of its application from course participants.

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